Easter Island archaeology sites



Of all the ahu in Rapa Nui, the site of Vinapu in the extension of the Mataveri airport track is undoubtedly the onethat raised more theories about the origins of the island’s population. The Vinapu is composed of two ahu, which face away from a cliff in the southeast slope of the Rano Kau, and of the remains of a third ahu located in front of the hydrocarbon storage tanks. In this place there is a deteriorated monolith and a perfectly assembled stone structure: an exciting discovery for many archeologists.

With a little imagination, the complex can be compared to a ceremonial center built by natives of the Bolivian city of Tiwanacu in South America (since the arrangement of the monoliths and the stones is similar to the walls built by the Inca people.) It is easy to forget that the Vinapu is previous to the golden age of the Incas (the ahu date from the year 1200.) Due to the absence of formal excavations, this place has remained sufficiently mysterious, so that the most liberal researchers can give free rein to their fantasies.

If we also consider the fact that the people of Rapa Nui cultivated the sweet potato (kumara), native from South America, we can understand why Vinapu became “proof” that the islanders came from Peruvian coasts. Some even outlined the theory of blonde giants similar to the Vikings who escaped from Tiwanacu and Peru in great rafts made of cane and sailed to Rapa Nui. They are supposed to be the fathers of this megalithic society, before the Polynesians arrived and destroyed their brilliant civilization. Regardless of this site’s origin, you should visit Vinapu for what it is: a place where the genius of the islanders to work the stones is fully expressed. However, in many other places of the island (not always as visible due to the accumulation of soil and sediments) we can also find this type of “Inca style” architecture. Anyway, it is possible that the Vinapu has nothing to do with South America. As for the sweet potato, researchers believe it came to the island with the Polynesians, who really sailed to South America before returning to their island.


In the southern coast of Easter Island, following the paved road, there is a spectacular ahu called Hanga Te’e located in a place called Vaihu. Eight statues lying down and facing the sky are lined up near the location of the old town, from which only small traces remain. On top of this ahu, which is perfectly visible from the road, there is a small and lonely statue built in October 2002. Originally, this statue was covered by dirt and weed. An old man remembered her existence, and in order to prevent it from being forgotten after his death, he revealed the secret of its location to young people, who rescued her from a tomb of dirt and oblivion.

Vai Mata

A small ahu by the precipice of Punta Atu o Puna indicates the location of the Maitaka Te Moa, an ahu built with great rocks. The walls enclose a moai from the first period, which was reused as a built-in part of the wall. Near this place, we find the Vai Mata plain, which is rich in archeological remains. One of these remains is a very easy to visit cavern, built belatedly with blocks of stones that came from shiphouses. Not far from there, we find the foundations of an interesting shiphouse, with a floor made of round stones extracted from the neighboring ahu. According to tradition, women gave birth in this place, and their babies took their first bath in a receptacle carved in a pukao and buried in red tuff. The name of this place comes from this custom, since Vai Mata literally means “water eyes”.

A 6 m high moai in very good state was knocked down 100 m away from the ahu where it was destined to be placed, after crossing the whole island. Like the Vinapu, this ahu’s structure is double and it composes of two “Inca style” wall structures, undoubtedly the most fabulous in the island.

Te Puna Pau

Puna Pau

Is the place where the great buns that covered the moai were extracted and prepared (most of them did not carry them). The ancient islanders opened this quarry belatedly in one of the many adventitious cones of the island. The red rock used to make the pukao is very soft, since it is formed by volcanic slag. The real difficulty the sculptors faced was extracting these hats from the craters, and particularly, rolling them over carefully in order to transport them without damaging them. Many believe that due to the lack of instruments like cranes, whoever lifted the moai first placed the pukao on their heads, and then lifted the whole set with a system which consisted of piling up stones and using levers. Heyerdahl carried out the experiment in Anakena in 1956. The weight of the pukao ranged from 9 to 12 tons.

Te Pito o te Henua

The round stone located to one side of the Te Pito Kura ahu evokes an egg or a sphere. Although not much is known about the function it performed in the past (if it had one), it quickly became a touristic attraction baptized as “the navel of the world” (Te Pito o te Henua). Other four smaller round stones added recently allow esoteric people to sit around them and put their hands together on the great stone in order to feel Easter Island’s Mana. On the other hand, and fundamentally for this reason, this ahu must be visited because there lies the biggest moai ever to be sculpted, transported and lifted. It is 9.84 m high and it is estimated to weigh around 74 tons.

Hanga Oteo

The most northern point of Easter Island, in the northern slope of the Maunga Terevaka, is formed by a volcanic semi-crater. There are several archeological sites on the slopes (especially shiphouses.) Among these constructions there is a tupa and some hare moa. In these belatedly built coops, the islanders hid the valued birds used for exchange ceremonies during the night, whose feathers allowed making hairstyles and other ornaments. Undoubtedly, this area of Rapa Nui is one of the most beautiful, a place where an extraordinary calmness emanates. No roads have been traced. This natural amphitheater which is completely isolated from the rest of the island can be accessed on foot or horseback through a path from Anakena. The help of a local tour guide is essential in order to fully appreciate this fairly unknown area.

The three Motu (Motu Kao Kao, Motu Iti, Motu Nui)

Motu: Kao Kao, Iti, Nui

This is where the servers (hopu manu) of the birdmen candidates (tangata Manu) waited for the first egg of a migrating sea bird. First it was the frigate bird, then a sort of tern. An obsidian vein crosses the Motu Iti, and the Motu Nui is sprinkled by several small caverns: the individual rooms of the servers. Some have amazing engravings and paintings, such as an extraordinary face in relief (the creator god Make Make) painted in dark ocher. To this day, the sea birds still nest in this place. To reach the Motu Iti, the hopu manu swam one kilometer across the hostile sea that divided the coast of the island on a sort of cane board. Today, these islets are very beautiful and popular scuba diving sites.